Contest to get £1.2bn repairs on the road

THE long-awaited green light has been given for a £1.2bn programme to repair Sheffield’s roads, footpaths, lights and bridges – now the question is who will get the job.

Two contractors remain on the shortlist – Amey and a consortium of Carillion and Mouchel.

The winner will carry out the repairs so that Sheffield’s roads become “the best in the country”, according to Transport Minister Norman Baker. It will also be given a 25-year contract to maintain the network.

Councillors will give their verdict in the autumn based on each company’s assessment of price and quality, and issues such as how it would prioritise the work and how it would seek to minimise disruption. Then the project – delayed from this summer amid uncertainty over public spending – is due to begin in the spring of 2012.

It follows Sheffield’s attempts to shake off its reputation as ‘pothole city’, with pressure for the repairs blitz starting under the previous Labour council and now being confirmed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

“The state of the roads across the city has been a disgrace for years,” said deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg in welcoming the “substantial investment” which was being authorised at a time “when there’s not much money around”.

The contract will be awarded under the Government’s Private Finance Initiative programme, which involves borrowing £640m plus £560m of interest payments. The council is emphasising that all the costs will be met by the Government.

The allocation is £30m less than originally proposed, which means that some savings will have to be made. Options include dimming street lights in the early hours, making equipment such as traffic lights last longer before replacement and replacing trees and grit bins less frequently.

Yet any quibbles were overwhelmed by a sense of relief in Sheffield that the long-running scheme had not fallen victim at the last minute to the public spending axe.

There was also the boost of Mr Baker announcing that the council will receive an extra £1.4m over the next year for emergency pothole repairs in the wake of the severe winter.

And £150,000 will be spent on a further feasibility study to develop the UK’s first tram-train service, between Sheffield, Meadowhall and Rotherham.

Passengers would be able to board a vehicle that could switch between tram and railway tracks. Mr Baker said: “The Government is committed to a trial of tram-trains in the UK and the route between Sheffield and Rotherham is the best place to develop it.”